Deaf Lesbian Festival Committee members Sally Garza, Chriz Dally, Regina Johnson, Sarah Hafer, Jennifer Ann Cook (JAC), Liz Brading, Dodi Ellis, and Susan Gonzalez. Not shown: Ella Mae Lentz and Judy Gough.
DLF Co-Chairs Jennifer Ann Cook (JAC) and Chriz Dally took some time out from their busy schedules for the following interview. The interview was conducted by Drago via AIM.
Q: Why was DLF founded and how did it get its start?
JAC: Umm… how can we state it in a short version? (ha ha)
It’s a spiral effect from Deaf Women United when deaf lesbians realized they needed space to celebrate themselves. It occurred during a SIG (Special Interest Group) meeting.
The goal of the festival is to reduce isolation that many deaf lesbians experience (all kinds of lesbians), increase participants’ understanding of their civil rights, leadership skills and networking system. The mission of the DLF: provide a nurturing space for dual-culture deaf lesbian to gather, network, gain emotional support and expand their knowledge about civil rights, health, leadership and cultural issues.
Chriz: …and inspire a sense of unity among deaf lesbians.
Q: What are some misunderstandings people have had about DLF? For example, do some men feel that deaf lesbians hate men?
JAC: Actually, it’s not about men!!! Believe it or not. It’s about hearing women who think we exclude hearing partners to the festival. That has been an emotional experience for all of us. It’s been an interesting journey as of late.
Chriz: The past four festivals experienced the same issues. How we kept on defining it is that this is a space to be Deaf friendly and to “finally” have a place where deaf lesbians can create networking and empowerment. At the same time, the process is quite difficult because sexuality is a very fine, fine line. It was easier for DWU to separate from men.. but for DLF, wow.. a lot of us do have hearing partners and some partners are very understanding, supportive…
JAC: …with my partner, Denise it’s easy!!
Chriz: …but for others.. difficult. So that has been challenging… how we can keep our space as loving and creating the least misunderstandings among the public’s eyes… to respect this space without calling it discriminatory or to also reject them. That’s why we’re hosting the DYKE BALL, so we can show that we are open to allies, hearing, and ALL… and yes, men and transgenders, too.
Q: Speaking of the Dyke Ball, this is the first time that a DLF event is open to all, correct?
JAC: Yes, first time ever.
Q: Was opening this event an easy decision for the committee to make?
Chriz: Easy to host…we are excited…yet, it took a lot of discussion. We were already open to hearing partners, women and lesbians. But the discussion was heated about the idea of bringing in men. Then we came to the conclusion to include all in a good place and we are sooo excited!
Q: Of course! It’s called the “Dyke Ball” after all!
Chriz: Yes! Exactly!
JAC: Maybe the next one we could call “QUEER Ball”!?
Q: I like that! What can people expect at the Dyke Ball?
Chriz and JAC.
JAC: TRUE entertainment… a TRUE DJ, MUSIC, a GOOD TIME! A celebration with a different kind of environment, making it a very fun, exciting, interesting and WILD time! Especially after Dyke March.
When I bid [to have the conference in] SF in DC, I mentioned that I would put in an effort to have us close to the weekend of Dyke March/Pride weekend to make it a very unique experience for all women, especially here in SF. Then the Dyke Ball idea came up. We just want to continue to give participants the “wild” entertainment time, with MUSIC, DANCING, SOCIALIZING! We want to blow their minds before they fly out on Sunday.
Q: How many deaf lesbians have registered for DLF? And how many people do you expect at the Dyke Ball?
Chriz: 126. For the Dyke ball, we hope to have up to 300 people. Some people will buy tickets at the door.
Q: Is this the largest DLF ever?
Q: DLF has been advertised as being for “deaf women who love women”. As you mentioned, sexuality and identity can be complex topics…
Q: One issue in the past has been whether transwomen (MTFs) and bi/queer-identified women are welcome at DLF. I don’t think they have been in the past. Has this changed with this DLF?
Chriz: Definitely. We are clear that this is for women who love women so that, to us, includes bi/queer/pansexual women and MTFs.
Q: I’m personally thrilled to hear that.
JAC: No offense here with the terms I may choose. In today’s era, we can’t stay “AYRAN lesbians”. You know, “pure”. We are evolving. We know some spaces like the Michigan Women’s Music Festival have strong policies about “born women only”. We understand that. To welcome MTFs for them is very challenging due to a variety reasons, such as wicca practices, all that.. they need sacred space to do their practices. Very interesting. For us… we are that… with a queer approach… evolving.. not Aryan lesbians. Not the old days but at the same time, we respect their process. That is one of the great reasons we are having a “Five Decades: Coming Out as Deaf and Lesbian” panel at DLF.
Chriz: I want to point out that this is OUR DLF here in SF. That’s who we are. Maybe the next DLF in New York will be different???? But, this is us. After the conference, we will process and see how we feel about the week.
Q: “Evolving” is a great term. Our community is so diverse. We have people who identify as neither male nor female, as genderqueer, gender variant and so on.
Q: Where do you see DLF 10 years from now?
Chriz: Part of the discussion on Saturday during the general meeting will be to discuss DLF’s future. Will it become an organization? Change its title? Become non-exclusive? Be left as is? Become a long-standing festival? There are many, many questions. It could be anything. It could also become an international festival. Right now, we have 12 international women coming. DLF could be BIG.
Q: Sounds like a time of major growth.
Q: What can people expect this week at DLF? (What are the highlights?)
JAC: Lots of tours, getting to explore SF! A walking tour of the Castro, a cable car tour, and getting to see the history of gay/lesbian/queers as well as Deaf history. We are hosting a party at Tres Agaves. That is so different! They have the best margaritas in town. There is also the Dyke Ball and especially the Dyke March! We will have workshops, such as the panel on coming out through the decades, a short, comedic film by the committee about how not to be a dyke.
At the Dyke March we will have a banner that says “Deaf Lesbian Festival.” This will be the first time that has ever happened. And we will march with all deaf women and allies. During the conference there will be three different workshops, SIGs [Special Interest Groups], a live auction with lesbian-related items like art, Olivia cruise, photography and etc.
Q: Sounds like a fun week! Regarding the Dyke March… that’s exciting. And definitely a first. You mentioned that allies are welcome to march with you. Does that include our gay/bi/queer brothers?
Q: Awesome! What about the parade on Sunday? Does DLF have any plans to join that?
Chriz: DLF ends at 1 am on Saturday (early Sunday morning). Participants are on their own to stay or not on Sunday and attend the parade. However, we have been heavily promoting Pride to ensure that women realize that there is a Pride day so they can plan their stay after the festival.
Q: When and where will the next DLF take place?
Chriz: Fire Island, New York in 2010.
Q: Best of luck with the conference!
Chriz: Thanks, Drago!
The Dyke Ball takes place Saturday, June 28, from 8 PM to 1 AM at The Center. The event is open to all. Get your tickets before they’re sold out. Tickets can be purchased from DCARA until 5 PM on Friday. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door.
For additional information about DLF, check out the articles in the current issue of Curve magazine and Eyes of Desire 2: A Deaf GLBT Reader.